On Theater: A tale as old as time

If there's anything negative about the Orange County Performing Arts Center's current attraction, "Beauty and the Beast," it's that this marvelous musical fantasy will be history after Sunday.

Any touring production so dynamically staged and so fully realized as this classic — no matter that it's now 15 years old; it didn't play at the center the first time around — should be in town for at least a month. If you don't have tickets now, you may be out of luck.

Inspired by the first animated movie to earn an Oscar nomination, "Beauty and the Beast" is a remarkable blend of vocal power, intricate choreography and breathtaking technical effects. It's a show that will entrance the kids while entertaining their parents.

The casting is impeccable. Liz Shivener is quite rapturous as Belle, the bookish, stubbornly independent young woman who frees her father from the Beast's lair by taking his place and winning her captor's heart. Her vocalizing borders on the operatic and captures the audience en masse with her heartfelt solo, "A Change in Me," late in the second act.

As the Beast — rendered grotesque by a witch's spell for his lack of charity, breakable only by true love — Justin Glaser projects an outwardly fearsome yet inwardly awkward character. Though his performance is properly over the top on most occasions, he captures playgoers' hearts with his agonizing rendition of the first act-closing number, "If I Can't Love Her," clearly the highlight of the show.

Comic relief and pseudo villainry are combined with prancing gusto in the character of Gaston, the town bully and would-be suitor to Belle. Nathaniel Hackmann splendidly captures the macho swagger of this show-stealing lout, most notably in the fervent stein-clinking production number "Gaston."

Christopher Spencer, who honed his acting chops in local Orange County productions, channels the late-life Mickey Rooney for his fine interpretation of Belle's daffy inventor father. Michael Fatica excels in energetic comedy as Gaston's henchman, hurling his body this way and that with alacrity.

The Beast's servants — cursed as he is and rendered semi-inanimate objects — are a lively lot. Merritt David Janes tops the list as the candlestick Lumiere, while Sabina Petra strikes a vivacious pose as Mrs. Potts, the teapot. Keith Kirkwood is a proper timepiece Cogsworth, while Erin Elizabeth Coors is a saucy feather duster Babette.

Director Rob Roth revisits his original production with verve and imagination, bolstered by the scintillating choreography of Matt West (whose "Be My Guest" ensemble number rocks the room) and musical supervision of Michel Kosarin. Visually, the costume designs of Ann Hould-Ward are particularly striking.

Technically, "Beauty and the Beast" is a particular triumph, since fantasy inspires exceptional creativity. Stanley A. Meyer's colorful scenic designs provide a stunning backdrop for the flashy lighting effects of Natasha Katz and John Petrafesa's crashing sound plot.

One can only hope this glorious production may some day return, but for now audiences have only until Sunday to "be their guest" for a superlative musical fantasy experience.

TOM TITUS reviews local theater for the Daily Pilot.

If You Go

What: "Beauty and the Beast"

Where: Orange County Performing Arts Center, 600 Town Center Drive, Costa Mesa

When: Closing performances at 7:30 p.m. Friday, 2 and 7:30 p.m. Saturday, and 1 and 6:30 p.m. Sunday

Cost: Tickets start at $20

Call: (714) 556-2787

Copyright © 2018, The Baltimore Sun, a Baltimore Sun Media Group publication | Place an Ad